Since more than 5,000 people flocked to the village in 2003 to celebrate the successful bid to host the 2010 Winter Games, it feels like public enthusiasm for the Olympics has dipped from the highest highs to the lowest lows, from “we’ll show the world” to “how much is this going to cost?”, from fist pumping to fist shaking.
Of course, I’m not basing this on any polls, just my own observations and conversations with locals. But in my humble opinion, the Games are at their lowest point yet in terms of public perception. Things will probably turn around as we get closer, but the view 16 months out is rather bleak.
The Sea to Sky Highway Improvement Project (technically not an Olympic legacy, but obviously timed for the Games) has now been underway for three and a half years. While I’m sure we’ll love it when it’s finished we’re all getting tired of closures, delays, potholes, reduced speed limits, invisible highway lines, and other inconveniences.
This fall we’ll also see the start of a Ministry of Transportation project to widen Highway 99 to three lanes from Function Junction to Whistler Creek, which will likely cause more delays and disruptions.
Residents have seen the promised legacy of a new hockey arena scrapped, but the Lot 1/9 forest was cleared anyway for an outdoor medal plaza some people felt could have been placed elsewhere. More recently some B.C. Hydro lands were cleared and wetlands filled in to build a new bus depot and hydrogen refueling station to showcase that technology at the Games. Meanwhile our existing diesel bus fleet is ailing and causing delays for riders as we wait until 2009 for the new hydrogen bus fleet to arrive.
Whistler did gain valuable concessions from the province for the Games. We received an extra four per cent of the hotel tax, which could add $7 million a year to municipal coffers, while we have about $8.7 million in Olympic costs to bear. The agreement also expires in 2011, so any long-term benefit will require a post-Olympic extension by government.
Plus, the province also saw fit to resolve the condo hotel tax in such a way that the municipality will actually receive about $2 million less in taxes per year, canceling out some of the hotel tax gains almost as soon as they were announced.
We received a land bank in Whistler, but only as part of a three-way deal involving First Nations that will result in more development that few residents want — more homes above Rainbow and Alpine North, and likely a new gas station by Function Junction that may be sorely needed, but how many of us want to see trees cut down to build it when there’s an empty lot in Creekside?